The problem with monopolies

My poor mother is struggling with a monop0ly in her care facility.  She and the gal who does hair there are at odds.

Two things before I go any further:  First, when it comes to her looks, my mother is extremely vain and, therefore, when it comes to hair stylists, she’s a PITA.  At her age, she’s entitled to be.  Feistiness is one of the things that keeps her going.  Second, because of her mobility problems, my mom cannot go elsewhere.  She needs the specially-designed chair that they have at her care facility.

So, as I said, Mom and the gal are at odds:  Mom wants a perm every six weeks and a cut that looks exactly as poodle-cuts did circa 1955.  The hairstylist wants Mom to have a softer, yet more tailored, look, so she’s trying to get her to have fewer perms and a slightly more architectural cut.  I tend to agree with the stylist, but it’s Mom’s hair after all, right?  And she’s the customer, right?

Unfortunately for Mom, the answer to those questions is, “No, not right.’  The hairstylist has a monopoly.  Mom can’t go anywhere else, so the stylist refuses to give her perms until at least two months have gone by and she makes the cuts more architectural than Mom likes.  I try to tell Mom she looks fabulous, but Mom doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror.

Equally unfortunately, Mom has fallen back on the only tactic she can think off:  she’s abusive to the hairstylist.  I’ve tried telling her that it’s not a good idea to pick a fight with the woman who wields scissors on your hair, but Mom is determined to yell and insult so loudly that the hairdresser will, of course, yield.

My Mom seems to be too elderly to understand that she has no leverage whatsoever.  There is nowhere else she can go and no one else who can do her hair.  Her choices are to make nice with this gal (which will not change the gal’s behavior, but will make their interactions more pleasant), or to let her hair go wild and free.  That’s the nature of a monopoly:  when there’s only one provider of goods and services that you need (or that you think you need), that provider has all the power.

The Obamacare exchange, of course, proves this point perfectly.  Ignore for a moment the fact that the government is dictating the nature of the product sold, and just focus on the exchange.  The exchange is the sole portal through which people can purchase goods.  To the extent there’s still a limited marketplace, it’s hidden behind that portal.

In the real world, if I’m having problems finding flights with Kayak, I switch to Expedia.  Or, as I recently discovered, I turn to a good, old-fashioned travel agent, who got me a better price on flights than I was able to do on my own.   With the exchange, however, if I can’t get past the gate’s guardian, I’m done.  No amount of cajoling or invective will change that fact.

Competition is the beginning, the middle, and the end of good service for consumers.  Take away competition and you’ve got tyranny, whether in the marketplace or the political theater.